Sea of Shadows film review

It has been nearly a year since I last wrote on V-log, and in that time, the vaquita’s situation has continued to worsen.

The most recent estimates put the population at 15 individuals, with the lucrative totoaba swim bladder trade stronger than ever. A fierce partnership between smugglers in Mexico and China creates a perfect storm of greed and corruption, with an innocent porpoise caught in the middle. NGOs struggle to find solutions, and the government fares even worse. A battle rages between legal and illegal fishermen, townspeople, the Mexican Navy, journalists, conservationists, police, and government officials, often in unexpected ways. The stage is set for one of the best documentaries of the past decade.

Sea of Shadows is the product of many years of meticulous planning, collaborating, and filming. Purchased by National Geographic after critical acclaim at Sundance, this film is a joint project between Terra Mater Factual Studios, Appian Way, Malaika Pictures, and The Wild Lens Collective, with Leonardo DiCaprio as executive producer and The Ivory Game’s Richard Ladkani as director.

Spoiler warning

The film is thoroughly gripping from the very first scene, showing a nighttime chase between illegal fishermen and Sea Shepherd that gets your arm hairs raised and heart pounding before the title card even appears. After the beautifully animated title sequence establishes the vaquita’s situation, we are thrown right into the action. The film is comprised of five intertwining narratives: Mexican reporter Carlos Loret de Mola searches for the truth behind the totoaba cartel and its kingpin; Italian environmentalist Andrea Crosta and his team of undercover investigators at Earth League International seek to unravel the link between China and illegal Mexican fishermen; American veterinarian Dr. Cynthia Smith and the rest of the Vaquita CPR project team desperately try to capture and save the last few vaquitas from the now-deadly waters they inhabit; drone operator Jack Hutton and the rest of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Milagro crew risk their lives to locate illegal fishermen and remove gillnets from the water; and generational San Felipe fishermen Javier and Alan Valverde struggle with the cost of following the law.

The filmmakers chose the perfect time in history to capture the vaquita’s plight. Never have so many intensely cinematic developments occurred in the fight to save this species. No film could ever capture every single facet of this situation, but Sea of Shadows knows exactly what parts to show in order to tap into the most visceral emotions of the audience. Activists have been talking to people and writing about the vaquita for years, with some undeniable success in terms of public support for the species. However, absolutely nothing can compare to being right there in the action – witnessing fishermen riot and drones and police being shot at; seeing a kingpin murder a soldier and a vaquita slowly die in someone’s arms. Above all, Sea of Shadows is a thriller, and an extremely effective one at that. I have rarely been so engrossed by a film, let alone a documentary.

Best of all, this thriller never forgets its central thesis: the vaquita’s story is just one example of what human greed is doing to this planet, and if we don’t change our ways, we will lose everything.

One thing that this movie made clearer to me than ever before is the destructive power of money. Over the past few years I have come to realize that all of the world’s environmental problems stem from our desire for short-term profits, and this movie hammered this message home in an unforgettable way.

If you can’t get to a theater that is showing it, keep your eyes out for this film on the National Geographic Channel and streaming services sometime soon. I hope Sea of Shadows reaches the masses before it is too late for the vaquita and the other species we share this planet with, because it certainly has the ability to wake people up and make a real difference. That is the power of great cinema.

Final verdict: all 15 remaining vaquitas out of 15

To find a showing near you, learn more about the film, and find out how you can help, please visit the Sea of Shadows website: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/films/sea-of-shadows

And click here to watch Souls of the Vermilion Sea, the 30-minute vaquita film by Sea of Shadows producers Matt Podolsky and Sean Bogle: https://vimeo.com/212128879

2014

2014, quite a year.

I’m sure this year was crazy for everyone in some way.

From the loss of Robin Williams to the Ebola outbreak, we have had a lot on our minds this year. However, many people had something new on their minds in 2014: the Vaquita.

This year was action-packed for our little hero. International Save the Vaquita Day was a smash hit, and everything was looking up with last year’s Official Norm law in mind. But this summer, we all took a blow to the gut: a new study showed only 97 Vaquitas remained.

It’s over then, right? 97? That’s too low to recover from. Especially if the government doesn’t make any changes. Well, they did change, but not for the better. They announced recently that they were NOT implementing a mandatory ban on gillnets in the Vaquita’s range, which is their only chance for survival. Not one person was able to stay completely optimistic at this point, and for good reason. It was basically over. Despedida, Vaquita.

But then, on the 25th, in what can only be described as a Christmas miracle, the unthinkable happened. The Mexican government announced a $37 million plan for a two-year ban on all gillnets in the Vaquita’s range, giving Muskwa enough time to perfect the Vaquita-safe nets as well as develop a long-term plan. Not only will the fishermen be paid to not fish, they can be paid to monitor the water for illegal fishing, therefore, in effect, converting the fishermen into “poaching rangers.”

This is the exact development that Vaquita conservationists have been suggesting for years. Now that this law will be in action, it is truly crunch time for us. Muskwa will be perfecting a cheaper and more effective Vaquita-safe net to distribute to the fishermen after the ban is over, as well as carrying out five other plans. All of us in the field of Vaquita conservation will be hard at work making the most of this valuable opportunity given to us by the Mexican government.

V-log had its best year in 2014, with over 9,300 views. And I was amazed to see the number of different countries that viewed my blog: 97. Sound familiar?

https://vlogvaquita.com/2014/annual-report/

Here’s to a much better 2015 for the Vaquita, because without that, there isn’t much hope for the species.

¡Viva Vaquita!

World Oceans Day 2014

Happy Memorial Day!

Sunday, June 8th, is World Oceans Day 2014! Like last year, my family will be hosting a table in Boston’s New England Aquarium for their World Oceans Day celebration! Please join us between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm for a day of fun, learning, and conservation!

World Oceans Day Vaquita

The New England Aquarium is big on ocean conservation, and has created the live blue™ Initiative, a project that protects endangered marine species and their habitats. I look forward to educating the public on one of the planet’s rarest and least-known species, the Vaquita, at this wonderful aquarium.

Please check out this really neat website about bycatch, with great statistics and graphics: http://www.bijvangst.org/en/home

Elaborating on my last post, Project #ChangeOurPerception, here is Anthony Bourdain’s blog, which talks a lot about the evolving food culture of Mexico, and The Truth About Mexico, a great Facebook page showing the positive truth about this extremely misunderstood and under-visited country.

Below are some photos of the Vaquita-related things that I have gotten in the past few months:

My dad’s Vaquita calf carving, to go with the mother he made earlier:

Calf Carving

Stephen and Anthony Palumbi’s book, The Extreme Life of the Sea, which contains a few pages about the Vaquita:

The Extreme Life of the Sea cover

The Extreme Life of the Sea interior

Jean-Pierre Sylvestre’s Dolphins & Porpoises: A Worldwide Guide, which we found in an old book shop:

Dolphins and Porpoises

Dolphins and Porpoises interior

Beach Bar Radio and Save the Whales/VIVA Vaquita’s awesome shirt from their Booster campaign:

Save the Whales back

And this cool t-shirt from Vince Radice’s Vaquita documentary Indiegogo campaign:

Vince Radice Shirt Front

Updated 8-bits

First of all, I know I am writing a lot of short posts right now of basically only artwork. Hopefully I will be writing more long posts soon, as the last few weeks in the Vaquita world have been relatively slow.

I am considering creating a series of digital paintings of endangered and/or very interesting cetaceans in pixel form. Below are what would be the first two entries, the Vaquita (a huge update from the last one) and the Maui’s Dolphin, both large and thumbnail sized. And who knows…the Vaquita could be used in the app!

8-bit Vaquita

8-bit Maui's Dolphin

8-bit Vaquita thumbnail

8-bit Maui's Dolphin thumbnail

Last chance for this month’s donation

If you buy my book before the midnight of tomorrow, August 1, 25% of the proceeds will go to ¡Viva Vaquita! in the very first monthly donation. Every month, I will be donating 25% of my book’s proceeds to ¡Viva Vaquita!, with the rest going to the ACSLA’s switch-out program and many other Vaquita causes. If you would like to donate to the Vaquita while receiving the first ever book on it, please visit https://www.createspace.com/4268018 and buy as many books as you would like. Thank you so much from the Vaquita! I will give the details of the donation after the deadline.

CIRVA

The Mexican government assembled a committee of international experts to assess the necessary methods to save the Vaquita. The International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) previously met in 1997, 1999, and 2004. Members of CIRVA met again in February 2012 and reviewed progress of the Vaquita since the last meeting. The CIRVA recommendations are in this report:

Executive summary in Spanish: http://bit.ly/ID2sQS

In English: http://bit.ly/Hrgm92

The Vaquita population is still declining and is probably made up of under 200 individual Vaquitas.